How can you help an aspiring writer? Recently, an experienced writer asked what he should do about a new, aspiring writer. He had been assked to offer advice, but he didn’t want to help. The fact is, he didn’t know how to help. He had no idea how to respond to the tyro writer without being highly critical.
I have worked with both new and experienced writers for three decades. I have long offered mentoring, developmental editing and copy editing services. Thus, I know the initial work of writers may be good or bad, but the process of developing it is always the same. All writing can be improved, but the method of doing it is important.
Here’s s what I suggest in this video to help aspiring writers:
1. Approach the person with kindness. Too many people in the literary world have a critical spirit and they can’t talk about writing without flaunting that spirit. Do these people ever let their children put their imperfect drawings on the refrigerator door?
2. Ask questions. It crushes the human spirit to list faults. When you find weak areas, ask the writer what he or she had in mind. Talk about alternatives. Suggest specific things they can do to improve particular passages.
3. Find positive aspects of the manuscript. Build on those. Don’t give them advice. Offer them specific techniques they can use to say what they intended to say. Give them some of the writing tips you learned the hard way.
4. Don’t expect a new writer to be able to absorb all you say. People grow as writers when they make incremental changes. Sometimes it takes more than one kiss to turn a frog into a prince.
5. Avoid the compulsion to get involved. If you think the writing is bad and you don’t have the desire, attitude or skills to help, say, “I wish I could help you but I can’t.” It’s as simple as that. That is far better to do than to crush the soul of an aspiring writer with improperly delivered criticism.
There is never a need to be “brutally honest” with a writer. That’s a primitive, unnecessary approach. Grammar is objective, but the rest of literature is mostly subjective. So, being “brutally honest” is often little more than being “cruelly opinionated.” Always find ways to encourage writers and artists.
Writing is a craft. Anyone can learn to do it. But an apprentice must have a wise journeyman willing to pass along the skills.
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